Flemish policy makers view EU trade agreements as lever for sustainable development

The European Union (EU) has re-evaluated the link between trade and environmental issues and labour rights in several free trade agreements (FTAs) with third countries and regional blocks this summer. ​ 

The European Commission published a 15-point Action Plan on Trade and Sustainable Development (TSD) in EU trade agreements in 2018. That action plan was revised this summer ​ 2022. ​ 

"We will negotiate with partner countries tailored objectives and time-bound roadmaps for more effective results," said Ulrich Weigl, from the Directorate General for Trade of the ​ Commission, during an event organised with the Foreign Affairs Department (DKBUZA) and the liaison agency Flanders-Europe (VLEVA) this Tuesday 13 September in Brussels.

During the same conference, Flanders' policy officers Erik Vanderheyden and Jean Van Oost explained the Flemish government point of view on TSD. They pointed out how the trade policy is "an important lever for economic growth and sustainable development".

"It stimulates job creation and thus fights poverty; facilitates trade in solutions to societal challenges; ensures coherence between labor and environmental standards worldwide; maximizes transparency and accessibility for SMEs," they listed, among other elements.

Two main aspects have been analysed by the policy makers: third countries' commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement and the respect for the Fundamental Conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

In order to improve law enforcement of sensitive issues, when it comes to the agreements, Flanders is in favour of a dispute settlement mechanism "maximizing mutual commitments, diversifying trading partners, and stability in trade with the EU".


The conference gave an update on the main free trade agreements of the European Union with third countries and regional blocks. The Mercosur agreement (comprising Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay) has been signed in 2019, but there are still some sustainability concerns in need of additional work.

On 10 March this year, the EU and Canada concluded the negotiations for a 'Mutual Recognition Agreement' (MRA) on the professional qualifications of architects. This agreement will remove most of the bureaucratic obstacles for EU architects seeking to provide their services in Canada, and vice-versa, allowing them to work almost as freely as they would at home.

The EU and Japan concluded a Digital Partnership (2019), the first that the EU signs with a partner country. It will create opportunities for joint work on digital technologies in areas such as secure 5G, safe and ethical applications of artificial intelligence, and the resilience of global supply chains in the semiconductor industry.

On 30 December 2020, the EU and China concluded in principle the negotiations on the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI). It's going through legal review and the next step is the ratification procedure.

In April 2020, the EU and Mexico concluded their negotiations of a modernised trade pillar in the context of a broader update of the 1997 EU-Mexico Economic Partnership. There is a legal review ongoing before the ratification procedure. The FTA signed with New Zealand is also under legal review before proceeding to ratification.

A modernization FTA with Chile, blocked by France last year, is now technically ready to be signed, but it is yet unclear whether the new Chilean government will propose changes to the agreement.

Australia and Indonesia have agreements still under negotiation.



© BELGA PHOTO (John MACDOUGALL / AFP) Activists display placards saying: "Pesticides, no, thank you, stop the EU-Mercosur Agreement" during a protest by NGOs against the proposed EU-Mercosur Free Trade deal, in front of Germany's Economy and Trade ministry on May 20, 2021.

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